The Replacements

Some great and thoughtful feedback pro and con to the “Blame Game” column in TIME today. One issue a few people have raised on the web and in notes is “sure, let’s drop 5 percent, but who will replace them?” That wasn’t the core point of the column, but it’s a great question and exposes a couple of interesting things about our education system and our education debate.

First, if you remove the lowest performers it’s not really the right question to ask.  That’s because if someone is at the bottom of the distribution you are better off with a random draw from the overall applicant pool than that person.  But, even accounting for that, a random draw isn’t actually the choice in most cases. Again from a standpoint of probability you’re on firm ground choosing teachers from certain teacher prep programs (traditional and alternative) based on the evidence today.  Unfortunately, some of those programs are controversial – see Project, New Teacher The or America, Teach For – and we’ve done a lousy job policing quality in teacher prep so the good and the bad are basically on equal footing. You could also – and I know this is crazy talk but just for argument’s sake – do what some schools do and actually audition prospective teachers in a live teaching setting.

We also have a peculiar situation as a country where we produce more teachers than there are jobs yet still have shortages.  That’s because there is a geographical, subject matter, and grade-level mismatch so it’s not one to one but it does speak to poor signaling from states, school districts, and prep programs today.  It also speaks to the need for a more ambitious set of incentives in many cases.  Finally, in some instances, it would make sense to raise class size by a student or two rather than retain demonstrably low-performers.

Each of these approaches has trade-offs, of course, and each one is not applicable across the board.  The point is that doing nothing is not an acceptable option, and it is a choice, and there are other choices that can be made.

7 Replies to “The Replacements”

  1. One issue a few people have raised on the web and in notes is “sure, let’s drop 5 percent, but who will replace them?”

    5% barely covers those who enter and then decide, “Oh,no, this isn’t the job/career for me” and leave

  2. We need to remove the bottom 5% and we’d be better off having TFA or longterm subs in those spots.

    The question SHOULD BE how do we improve schools. And the corrollary is when do we abandon the quest for silver bullets. The “teacher quality” craze is just another simplistic quick fix.

    REAL SOLUTIONS call for holistic plans and real solutions are hard – much much harder than “reformers” understood.

    The first steps are early ed that is based on the socio-emotional and reading for comprehension. The good news is that its a win win approach. The bad news is that it is hard. It requires high-quality implementation and that is something foreign to our system with its culture of compliance. It was much easier for accountability hawks to get the big dogs to bully the little dogs and call it “teacher quality.” I’ll get back to that.

    The second step is creating respectful learning environments and that’s the hardest of all to do at scale. Sure the system can let a few No Excuses schols enforce the behavioral, attendance, and academic standards, by dumping the kids who don’t make it in neighboring neighborhood schools. But we need SYSTEMS where the TEAM EFFORT that is schooling can occur, and those systems must include HIGH QUALITY alternative slot and mentors etc. In high-poverty secondary schools, being a cop is job #1, and we won’t have the instruction we need until we have the order required for teaching and learning.

    If NCLB had done the opposite and invested in creating respectful learning cultures, the tables would be turned because I would be pleading for patience because we would have not worked miracles. But we couldn’t have failed as badly as the “Teacher Quality” or blame it all on the teachers approach of recent years.

    And that get’s to the idea in the Washington Post of freeing teachers from IMPACT if they’ll transfer to the toughest schools! That’s rich! It is admitting what we know – that IMPACT and its spawn are revenge by reformers against teachers, making us miserable as payback for disagreeing with them. And the richer side is that liberal and neoliberal “reformers” have convinced themselves that they are on the side of the angels.

  3. John nails it.

    Bottom line. The growing push towards using standardized test scores to measure teacher performance is only going to make it more and more difficult to get good teachers to work in challenging schools.

    As a teacher if my pay and job security are going to depend in part or in whole on my student’s standardized test performance then I’m going to want to teach in the most affluent district possible where the schools are orderly safe, new, and well equipped, where I can email or call any parent any time I have difficulty with a child, and where parents will take extreme measures such as hiring private after school tutors to get their kids across the bar.

  4. There is a way to ensure that all teachers enter the classroom on Day One competent to lead classroom instruction and be responsible for student learning. But that means making sure they can do this after teacher prep, not guessing that they will be able to when they enter a teacher prep program or alt-route organization.

  5. We “produce more teachers than there are jobs, yet still have shortages.” Yes, because there is some unknown proportion of new grads from teacher prep programs (the traditional ones, not the alternate ones) that has chosen to major in Education not because they want or expect to be teachers, though they may try teaching for a year or two, but because Education is the easiest major you can choose. Fortunately, these folks teach briefly or not at all.

  6. EB–

    At my school business was the easiest major not education. And most of the kids I knew who were sleepwalking (or drinking) their way through school were business majors not education majors.

    That said, I think the bigger problem is geography. A HUGE number of students graduating with education degrees are women who major in elementary education and then get married to college educated men who have professional careers in business, law, health care, etc. The bulk of those professional jobs are centered in the larger urban areas and affluent suburbs surrounding larger cities so that is where they settle. You can’t walk through any affluent suburb anywhere in the country without running into hundreds of affluent stay-home mom types with elementary education degrees who volunteer with the local PTA and get heavily involved in the upscale local schools that their kids attend. And they complain endlessly that they “can’t find” teaching jobs because there are 100 applicants for every job at those schools. Of course when hubby is an attorney or doctor or corporate middle manager and the kids are settled in the local schools they are hardly going to relocate to rural Nebraska to find that teaching job.

    I see it here in Texas in affluent suburbs like Plano, Round Rock and Katy. And it’s the same in every city from Seattle to Atlanta.

    I have a suggestion for the problem of tenured but less effective teachers. After evaluating the the success of all the students in a classroom, assign a successful teacher to supervise a less successful one. The successful teacher would determine the lessen plans and see to their application. This successful teacher may not be tenured yet, be younger, and be paid less. The supervised, tenured, teacher may resent this loss of authority and quit teaching.

    My daughter, a practicing chiropractor, considered becoming a teacher. She started as substitute teacher but could not afford the year of unpaid student teaching. Why not combined substitute teaching with student teaching?

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